When a storm arises while the disciples are on the sea of Galilee, Jesus decides to meet them on the water. Yet, as Jesus travels toward those at sea, the Gospel writer adds that “he meant to pass by them” (Mark 6:48). It is only when the disciples see him and react in fright that their teacher turns to speak with them. But if Jesus walks on water to save his struggling students, then why does he intend to pass beyond the boat? The Gospel includes this curious information to connect Jesus’ actions to what God had done in the past.

Mark states that as Jesus “came to [his disciples], walking on the sea, he meant to pass by (παρελθεῖν; parelthein)” (6:48). This detail may sound odd, but it is crucial for understanding Jesus as the one through whom God works on earth. When Moses asks God to see the divine “glory” (כבוד; kavod), the Lord tells him that no human being “can see my face” (Exodus 33:20). As a compromise, God puts Moses in the cleft of a rock and tells him to look once the Glory has gone by. In the Greek translation of this passage, God tells Moses, “When my glory passes by (παρέλθῃ; parélthe), I will place you in the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by (παρέλθω; paréltho). And I will remove my hand and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen” (33:22-23 LXX). Moses gets to see God’s “back” (אחור; achor), but the Lord protects Moses by blocking his view of the divine visage.

 It is this narrative that Mark alludes to when Jesus walks on the stormy sea. For the reader tuned into Exodus, the notion that Jesus would have “passed by” his disciples indicates that the Messiah is doing a “God act” of the kind that Moses saw at Sinai. Jesus’ words to his students underscore his divine identity: “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). The common English translation of “it is I” obscures what the Greek Gospel really says, which is “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι; ego eimi)—the same phrase with which God responds to Moses at the burning bush according to the Septuagint: “And God said to Moses, ‘I am’ (ἐγώ εἰμι; ego eimi)” (Exodus 3:14 LXX). If walking on water weren’t enough, the Gospel includes subtle linguistic cues to show that Jesus reenacts the words and deeds of God.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I have a somewhat unrelated question. I was referred to this article to present the question. There are many teachers/pastors in the Hebrew Roots movement that are teaching about the letters 'aleph tav' or 'et' in Hebrew and their use in the Torah. The teaching is that the two letters are not translated and carry a spiritual meaning about specific persons or places, etc...in scripture showing that that person is set apart in a special way. For example, it is used in the first sentence of Torah so they say it demonstrates Yeshua's presence at creation. (of course, NT scriptures separately verify that He was) Or that it is used when the 'hey' is added to Sarai's name or when Abram became Abraham. I don't disagree that there may be a mystical meaning behind the use of aleph tav in some verses, however, in the Hebrew classes I have taken, it is clearly defined as a word used to identify a direct object and it is not translated into English because our sentence structure doesn't need that identification. Can you shed any light on this? Thank you!
    • Thanks for your question, Catherine. The idea that the Hebrew את has special or mystical meaning is a post-biblical notion, but this understanding of the direct object marker is not germane to New Testament views of Jesus, nor was it meant in any "mystical" or "messianic" way by the authors of Israel's Scriptures. For teachers to pontificate about some "deeper meaning" of את and apply it to biblical theology is a poor use of teaching time. The actual biblical narrative is complex and meaningful enough to merit our focus over pretending that an untranslatable linguistic particle is the esoteric key to understanding Jesus or God.
  2. Thanks a lot Dr. Nic for all your efforts. Through this narrative, we can conclude that Jesus is the sheer incarnation of God on earth?
    • Thanks for your question, Lola. "Incarnation" language may be imprecise in the case of Mark's presentation (since the concept doesn't appear explicitly in the Markan text; that's an idea in John's Gospel [see Jn 1:14]). More, Jesus himself makes clear distinctions between himself and God in Mark (e.g., Mk 10:18; 13:32). It may be better to say that Jesus has the divine authority on earth to carry out the same activities that God had in the past.
  3. Thanks so much for these deep teachings. I am persuaded to join your classes. My understanding of the bible is improving
  4. Amazing article! How would you translate ehyeh asher ehyeh? From my understanding “I am” isn’t the only possible way to translate it?
  5. Dr. Nicholas, Everything about The Lord Jesus is a resounding mistery my humble thought on this is He see and knows what to come and the immediate effect upon us individually and collectively no matter our Human point of view the LORD'S modules operandi still speaks and stands out pecabily.
  6. Do you think the same reference to passing by is telegraphed in the Emmaus road story as Jesus makes as if to go on but is then invited in to eat with two disciples after speaking with them after His resurrection? It came to mind as I read your article!
    • Thanks for your question, Lois. The road to Emmaus episode is in Luke 24, but Luke doesn't narrate Jesus walking on water (that's Mark, Matthew, and John). More, Luke 24:28 doesn't use the "passing" language we see in Exodus. It's good that you're thinking of other Gospel passages, but there are no narrative or linguistic links in this case.

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